Associated Press editor Michael Warren's car sits next to a fold-out toilet seat and a pop-up changing tent at a rest area along Interstate 75 in Florida on July 25, 2020. Warren considers these two items essential to long-distance road trips during the pandemic. (Michael Warren/AP)
“We’d like to take a 7- to 10-day road trip to explore Florida. What essentials do we need to pack in our car in case of a breakdown or getting lost?” — Judy, Boca Raton
To me, the packing process is one of the highlights of a trip to anywhere. I love thinking ahead about what I’ll be doing at my destination and everything I’ll need to make it a memorable experience.
But I know not everyone enjoys loading up the car. Some find it tedious and time-consuming; others fear forgetting something important.
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Whatever your concerns, here’s a checklist that will free you to think about the sights you’ll see and the people you’ll meet. Of course, not everyone will agree on what’s essential, so pick and choose depending on the amount of time you’ll spend in the car, how quickly you get bored, and how picky you are about your bathroom needs.
Food: Some of us like to pick up fast food or coffee along the way, but if you prefer to bring your own, get a good thermos and a cooler. Coolers range in price from $30 to more than $200, depending on their size, how cold they promise to stay, and whether they have extras such as drain plugs, shelves, wheels and cushioning. Besides the meal of your choice, bring along drinks, snacks, napkins and some towels in case of spills. If you’re eating while driving, make sure to plan ahead and choose food that’s easy to feed yourself, like a sandwich, and nothing that needs a utensil that will distract you from driving.
Bathrooms: This is obviously a very personal decision, but you should decide what your tolerance is for the public bathrooms along the way and what will happen if you need one and there are still many miles to go. There’s a surprising variety of portable urinals and toilets that you can keep in the car — some reusable, some disposable, some designed for men and some for women. Most are made of plastic and cost less than $20. And don’t forget toilet paper.
Entertainment: Does anyone listen to the radio anymore? I like to record podcasts to listen to on long trips, but there are also music apps and video game apps (for passengers, of course). Make sure to have your charging cords within reach. A hotspot is a useful little gadget that will connect you to WiFi no matter where you are on the highway; they can cost as much as $200 plus the price of a monthly data plan.
Emergencies: Of course you want to have your medications, pain treatment such as ibuprofen, and emergency tools such as an EpiPen if you have allergies. A first aid kit is also essential; make sure it has bandages, gloves, hand sanitizer and antibiotic ointment at a minimum. Keep a flashlight in the trunk in case you get stuck on the road at night. Hopefully your car has a tire-changing kit; you can also join a club such as AAA that provides road service and other travel discounts. Or check if your insurance company will change your flat tire or tow your car in a pinch.
Isn’t it the best feeling as you pull out of your driveway to know you have everything you need right in your car? If you realize there’s something you forgot, don’t panic: You’re never too far from a convenience store or supermarket in our state.
Let me know if I forgot anything that you consider indispensable for a lengthy trip; I’m at AskLois@sunsentinel.com.